Masala Art

Rock Salt & Cilantro Lime

After writing up our recent post on homemade Indian food, J & I were craving Indian last Friday. Luckily we already had plans to grab drinks in Tenleytown, so it was the perfect excuse to visit Masala Art in person (J had picked up takeout for us once before).

When I arrived, I was immediately taken with the atmosphere. From the exterior and its neighbors, you’d never suspect how subtly sophisticated and warm Masala Art could be inside. The music and noise level of conversations around the room were soft even though some of the tables are pretty close together. While I waited for J, I sipped on my delicious cocktail and perused the menu. I can’t recall the name of the cocktail, but it was a mix of amaretto, red wine and mint.

Although I was slightly overwhelmed by the choices on the menu, I appreciated the variety of options and price points (appetizers around $5.00 and entrees ranging from $10-22). We opted to go for several appetizers in order to try out more dishes.

Shrimp & Chicken

Our first dish ended up being by far my favorite. The Aloo aur Pyaz ki Bhaji (Juliennes of potatoes and onions in chickpeas batter) would be my hangover food of choice if I still lived in Tenleytown. Imagine a flavorful, slightly spicy mix of crispy french fries and a Blooming Onion (although that may discount how tasty these are) all rolled into one. With two sauces to tame or add to the flavor, I could have eaten 10 of these. Maybe the best thing I’ve eaten since the bocadillos at Estadio.

Next up, the Chicken 65 (chicken tossed in South Indian masala) and Jheenga Porchai Yera (spicy tempered prawns). We paired these with the rock salt and cilantro naan. We should have ordered rice and/or a vegetable at this point.

Both dishes were spicier than our attentive waiter led us to believe, but not overly so. They each evoked barbecue flavors- the chicken more of a tomato-base, and the prawns more a wing flavor.

Our last two dishes were perhaps the most interesting, but our least favorite flavor-wise. Dahi Bhalle, velvety lentil dumplings in yogurt sauce, and Bhelpuri, which was puffed rice, chickpea vermicelli, peanuts, chopped onion, diced mango, cilantro and drizzled with tamarind chutney.

Dahi Bhalle

We had spotted numerous orders of the Bhelpuri, which essentially looked like taco salad bowls, so obviously the description enticed other diners too. Unfortunately, the description didn’t live up to our expectations, and it amounted to a bowl of Rice Krispies and Corn Puffs. With extra chutney and maybe another sauce for added flavor and moisture, I would have enjoyed the dish more, but the flavor was just not there like it had been in previous dishes.

For all the crunch that the Bhelpuri had, Dahi Bhalle lacked. The ‘velvety’ adjective used by the menu description is perfectly accurate, but the dish was too one note for me.

I’m already anticipating my next visit to Masala Art with friends in tow to sample more of the dishes. While it might not quite reach the heights of Rasika‘s Indian, it’s a more affordable and worthy option; our bill came to $45 w/out tax.

Check out Masala Art at 4441 B Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20016.

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Road Trip: Dame’s Chicken & Waffles, Durham, NC

The Quilted Buttercup

Thanks to numerous weddings in the past couple of years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to return to my home state of North Carolina for brief visits. While DC has great food with lots of cultures and cuisines represented, I still miss my southern food. So whenever I visit NC, I try my best to either visit one of my old favs or try a new place that’s representative of the state’s food culture.

Last Saturday provided a great opportunity to try somewhere new. J & I  met my dad and brother for lunch in Durham before the next leg of our trip to Greensboro for a friend’s wedding. Even though I grew up 45 minutes from Durham, I’m not too familiar with downtown, which has experienced a revitalization in the past few years.

My brother directed me to a blog with reviews of Durham restaurants to select our desired eatery. J & I settled on Dame’s Chicken & Waffles. Sure, Birch & Barley has delicious chicken & waffles, but I thought Dame’s would give us a different take on the southern dish.

Our first impressions of the restaurant weren’t great. It was fairly small and I noticed several empty tables, yet a few groups of people gathered outside. The hostess informed me that the issue was waiter availability rather than table availability and she pulled a 15 to 20-minute wait estimate out of you-know-where.

Fine. We had time to kill and it was nice out, so we waited. And waited. It ended up being at least 30 minutes. But we dealt with it, and were ravenous and ready to order when seated.

Dame’s is smart to offer a short and simple menu of nothing but various types of chicken & waffles. Their specialty is something called a “schmear” or flavored sweet creme butters in varieties such as blueberry, maple and toasted almond creme. Each waffle is served with a southern side such as mac & cheese, squash, and my personal favorite, collards. Coffee is self-serve, which is nice given how long our waitress took with our other drinks.

Luckily though, food service was quick. Before we knew it, massive plates of chicken & waffles sat before us.  I decided on the ‘Quilted Buttercup’-  two petite “rare breed” scratch-made sweet potato waffles shmeared w/ maple & candied pecan. I smeared the schmear on the top waffle and pierced a bit of each ingredient onto my fork so I could taste all the components together. The chicken was perfectly crisp, crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The sweetness of the schmear went perfectly with the savory chicken. My main complaint was the lack of sweet potato flavor. But given how much chicken was on my plate and the sweetness of the schmear, I guess that was to be expected. My side of collards was delicious as well, with an unexpected kick to them.

J ordered what they called “What a Classy Hen?” which came with a vanilla and toasted almond schmear on a classic waffle, with squash and onions for his side. However, for some inexplicable reason, he decided to go with the healthier grilled chicken. This slightly defeated the purpose. The outer edges of the chicken were tough, but the inner sections managed to remain juicy and tender. The schmear was smooth on both the chicken and the waffle, and the saltiness of the squash  balanced the dish nicely.

While it’s nice for the health-conscious that Dame’s offers the grilled option, we say you should just plan on skipping the restaurant if you’re looking to eat healthy. There’s something about the crunch and savoriness of the fried chicken that mixes with the sweet waffle that makes the dish. The ‘magic’ is just lost when the crunch of the chicken is removed from the equation. Overall, it was a delicious meal and somewhere I’d return the next time I have time to kill and calories to add in Durham.

Check out Dame’s Chicken and Waffles at 317 West Main Street,  Durham, NC.